Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ignorance of the Wrong-Levels of Knowledge

IN OUR EARLIER POSTING WE EXPLORED the issue of the ontological division of precepts with a focus on the relationship of the precept to the ultimate end. In this posting, we shall explore the epistemological division of precepts. The former looked at the precepts in se; the latter will look at the precepts quoad nos, as we know (or are ignorant of) them. Knowledge of the precepts is obviously important for if the precepts are to guide us in our reasonable quest for happiness and our ultimate good, then we must have knowledge of the precepts when choosing among the various particular goods that confront us in determining whether the particular goods are, in fact, leading us to happiness or our ultimate good.

The practical reason in man, not less than the speculative, is discursive; it draws conclusions from general principles which are, so to speak, their causes. As principles are better known than conclusions, it becomes evident that some precepts of the natural moral law will be better known than others. There will be a hierarchy of order according to the cognoscibility.

Bertke, 37. Knowledge of principles is affected by a variety of factors, but we may categorize them into two general areas: (i) the precepts' generality versus their particularity, and (ii) their closeness to our natural inclinations. These two areas are important in distinguishing what affects our knowledge of moral principles.

The general principles of the natural law may be self-evident inclinations or principles or may be direct conclusions from self-evident principles. On the other hand, they may be determinations much further down the discursive chain of reasoning. The injunction, "do not kill the innocent," is much more readily understood (and known) than the application of that principle in the issue of ordinary care and extraordinary care, and when extraordinary medical means may be refused, or when palliative care, which indirectly may hasten death, may be used to alleviate the suffering of a patient. It is apparent at once that the more common or general principle is more readily known than the more particularized application of it.
[I]t becomes evident that the practical intellect will be apt to know precepts which deal with human action in general before it becomes aware of those norms which guide particular actions, and the deeper we descend into the real of particular action surrounded by various circumstances, the more difficulty is encountered by the intellect in determining the correct norm to follow."
Bertke, 40.

Generality of a principle ought not to be confused with self-evidency, as there may be self-evident principles that are general and those that are particularized and require specialized knowledge. Self-evident principles are those in which the predicate is contained within the subject, so that if one knows the subject, one will necessarily know the predicate. St. Thomas divides the propositions into those which are self-evident considered in themselves (secundum se or per se notae quoad se) and those which are self-evident in relation to the knowing subject (quoad nos).* Since knowledge of self-evidency requires that we know the subject and the predicate (so as to recognize that the predicate is contained within the subject), it follows that ignorance of the subject or predicate will result in our failing to comprehend a self-evident proposition or principle.

Since our knowledge is derived from the senses, it follows that those principles that are more closely tied to the senses are more readily known. Similarly, those principles which are strongly tied to natural inclinations are generally better known. "[F]acility in the acceptance of a precept guiding an inclination will be in proportion to the strength of the inclination." Bertke, 39. Inclinations tend to be stronger the more further removed they are from man's conscious intellectual activity. The intellectual feltness found in man's basic inclinations are, in a manner of speaking, guttural and "these inclinations will be stronger in those regions farthest removed from the conscious life."** The principles behind the basic inclinations which incline and direct the will strongly will be more readily grasped than those to which the will is indifferent. There thus arises a certain curious paradox:

It is paradoxical that the intellect will more easily assent to precepts guiding to the attainment of those goods which are farthest removed from conscious life as such, while the easiest assent of all will be to that precept which guides us to the good which is possible only because of the nature of intellectual apprehension. The reason lies in the strength of the inclination. . . . [M]an must seek the total human good, or perfect happiness; this is man's strongest inclination, and a precept finding its wellspring therein will most easily find acceptance in the intellect.

Bertke, 40. There are, moreover, distinctions within the inclinations arising from whether these relate to being generally, animality, or rationality. There is, therefore a "threefold category of inclinations which man possesses by reason of his complex nature." Bertke, 42. "[E]ach distinct class of being has an inclination to the good which is in conformity with its nature. We find similar inclinations of all these types in man by reason of his complexity." Bertke, 41-42.

Following St. Thomas, Bertke therefore distinguishes the overriding first principle of moral life and "a series of precepts which, though less universal and therefore less easily known than the first principle, are nevertheless self-evident to all and therefore constitute with it the first class of precepts." They are as follows:
  • good must be done; evil must be avoided (the first principle).
  • being must be conserved.
  • the species must be conserved.
  • act in accordance with rational nature.
  • do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • give everyone his due.
As we descend from these self-evident general principles, we encounter a "second group of precepts," easily deduced from the first class, "and which have to do with determined actions or means to the realization of the general goods proposed to man's reason by the various inclinations." Bertke, 43. By and large, this second group of precepts is well-summarized in the Ten Commandments or Decalogue. Though the Ten Commandments are revealed precepts, they are coterminous with precepts of the natural law that are easily deduced from the fundamental principle of the natural moral law and the self-evident principles identified above.***

To St. Thomas the Ten Commandments are a sort of moral plexus which implicitly contain the fundamental precepts of the natural law and, further, implicitly contain the entirety of all further conclusions and determinations. "The first precepts are to be found in the Decalogue as principles are contained in conclusions drawn from them, while the remote precepts are contained in the Decalogue as conclusions in principles." Bertke, 43.†

From the first level and second level precepts we may mover further down the deductive chain of reasoning. At this point we enter more and more remote conclusions or determinations. As we go further down this often times sinuous mental road, matters become more concrete, particularized, contingent, conditional and therefore more mentally tenuous. Commonly, the precepts of this third level are not self-evident or readily obtained by the ordinary man. The ordinary man needs help, either by reliance upon the judgment of a wise and virtuous person or upon positive law (either divine or human) to determine the correct norm of action. It is evident that a huge part of our lives plays out in this third level of precepts. Accordingly, it follows that a large part of our lives must be governed by the judgment of wise men or positive law.††

Error and ignorance of the natural moral law is not "the normal fruit of the mind," and yet, in the state of man as we find him, fallen and with a loss of integral nature, it is the case that error and ignorance are common, and in fact more frequent than truth and knowledge. Mental or moral abnormality is unfortunately common, and we have modern institutions in competition with the Church for man's soul that encourage, promote, and relish in propagandizing error.††† But before we can assess what is abnormal, we need to know what is normal and what may detract from normalcy.

*S.T., IaIIae, q. 94, art. 2, c.
**As we have discussed before, it is not that these inclinations are irrational; rather, they are very rational even though their rationality is not such that result from the conscious or propositional rationality. Maritain and others have called this rational (but not conscious) knowledge by inclination or by connaturality, and we have used the concept of "intellectual feltness" to encompass both the rational aspect of it and the inclinatory, connatural, congenial aspect of it. See Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: Inclination and Law, Part 1. Yves Simon uses an interesting analogy to distinguish matters known by inclination versus matters known consciously through discursive knowledge. Knowledge known by inclination is, as it were, "smelled." Knowledge known discursively or consciously is, at it were, "touched," or "seen." See notes to Virtue Defined.
***Excepted would be the requirement to keep the Sabbath holy. Though the worship of God would be preceptive under the natural law, it would not necessarily translate into the separating apart of a particular day of the week to God.
†See S. T. IaIIae, q. 100, art. 3, c.
††Some of these wise men wear habits or soutanes. In the case of a person who has faith in Christ, he would have the further assured help of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, which provides guidance, under some circumstances infallible guidance, of the content of the natural moral law even in this third level. It would seem, however, that even a person without faith in Christ and his Church would pay attention to the Church as an institution that has amassed tremendous wisdom of both matters divine and human. Even as a matter of natural faith, the Church ought to be recognized as a voice crying out in the moral wilderness. Far better to listen to the Church, than to the drone of the media and the opinions of their proffered pundits and talking heads, the psycho-babble of many psychiatrists and psychologists, the foolishness of "Dear Ann" columns or articles in Cosmopolitan, the inanities of the celebrities of Hollywood, or the slogans of self-serving politicians.
†††The names of these competing institutions are Legion (Cf. Mark 5:9; Luke 8:30). We might include such names as PP, ACLU, MSNBC, MTV, NAMBLA, KKK, ANP. Some of these demons of Gadarenes are decidedly less liberal or progressive, e.g., Al-Qaida.

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